December 16, 2008
WASHINGTON (AP) — The government has completed 500 miles of fencing along the Southwest border, 170 miles short of its goal.
At this pace, the administration expects to have at least 600 miles complete by Jan. 20, when Barack Obama takes over as president, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said earlier this month.
The president-elect said last week that he wants to evaluate what's working on the border as he considers whether to continue building the 670 miles of fencing. But by Chertoff's estimation, there will not be much left to build.
Homeland Security officials earlier this year said the fence would not be completed by Dec. 31, as planned. About 160 miles have been built since August, despite calls by some groups to delay construction.
As of Dec. 12, 500 miles had been completed, said Customs and Border Protection spokesman Mike Friel.
The fence along the U.S.-Mexico border is not intended to stop illegal immigration altogether, but make it more difficult for people to enter the U.S. illegally, Bush administration officials say.
It has been controversial and has faced several lawsuits, none successful so far.
Congress authorized the fence in 2005 to help secure the border and slow illegal immigration, and gave the homeland security secretary the power to waive the federal laws. Obama, as a senator, voted for the fence.
Congress has set aside $2.7 billion for the fence since 2006. But there's no estimate how much the entire system — the physical fence and the technology — will cost to build, let alone maintain.
In September, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Ralph Basham told Congress his agency needed an additional $400 million to complete the project, citing higher costs for fuel, steel and labor. Congress approved the $400 million and the Bush administration believes it now has enough money to finish the fence.
The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks revived the immigration debate and advanced the idea of a border fence. Intelligence officials have said gaps along the Southwestern border could provide opportunities for terrorists to enter the country.
The overall plan for security on that border includes additional Border Patrol agents, more enforcement of immigration laws, the fence and a high-tech "virtual fence" using surveillance technology. The administration has met its goal of adding 6,000 new agents to the Border Patrol force by the end of this year, bringing the total to about 18,000.
Boeing Co. has the contract for the technology portion of the fence, as well as for some construction work. The company's contract for the technology expires in 2009.